Political Thought and Political Institutions. Political thought is the immanent philosophy of a whole age which determines its actions and shapes its life. There was abundant political thought in the middle Ages. The conflict between the church and the state; the relation of church to common people, learned persons, feudal landlords and students of educational institutions provided sufficient live materials for political thought.
Political Thought and Political Institutions:-
It is evident that a close relation will exist between the political thought of any given period and the actual political conditions then existing. Most political theories arose either to explain and justify the authority that men obeyed or to criticize it in the hope of accomplishing change. Sometimes, it is true, political philosophers speculated concerning the ideal state, or drew imaginative pictures of political conditions as, in their opinion, they should be.
Even this type of political theory, however, will, if closely examined, prove to be based on the political ideals of its time, and will usually be aimed at certain specific evils to which the conditions then prevailing gave rise. Plato’s Republic has little meaning unless viewed in the light of the conditions that existed during the decline of the Greek city-states.
More’s Utopia depends upon the background of social unrest during the change from agriculture to sheep raising in England. Bellamy’s Looking Backward presupposes the modern city and modern problems of capital and labor.
Ordinarily, political theories are the direct result of objective political conditions. They reflect the thoughts and interpret the motives that underlie actual political development. At least they represent what more believe to be the nature and spirit of their institutions. They indicate the conditions and the intellectual point of view of their age. At the sometime, political theories also influence political development.
They are not only the outgrowth of actual conditions, but they, in turn, lead men to modify their political institutions. Sometimes theory has preceded, sometimes it has followed, the corresponding institution or activity. Political theories are thus both cause and effect. Changing conditions create new theories.
these in turn influence actual political methods. Magna Carta and the Declaration of the Rights of Man were more than mere statements of principle. They were programs of action whose effects are felt to this day.
Political theory is connected not only with the political institutions of its time but also with other categories of thought. Just as an abstract political or economic man cannot be separated from man in all his interests, so political thought cannot be divorced from science, philosophy, ethics, religion, economic theory, and literature, or even from tradition, dogma, prejudice, and superstition.
The nature of political thought depends largely upon the stage of intellectual development. At one period men’s intellectual interests place emphasis on one phase; at another, upon a different phase. The primary influence of religious doctrines on the political thought of the Middle Ages, and the connection between economic doctrines and political theory at that present day are at once suggested.
Accordingly, the historical survey of political thought must keep in mind not only the actual development of political institutions but also the parallel progress of human thought in other fields, in order that the political principles of any given time may be understood and appreciated.
There are, therefore, two phases in the evolution of the state. One is the objective, concrete development of states as manifested in their governments, their administration of law, and their international relations; the other is the subjective development of ideas concerning the state as an abstraction.
In political theory as in actual political organization, a continuous growth may be traced. Political principles, like devices of government, are handed down from age to age, each state by its experience and in the light of its conditions modifying former concepts and devices, and these in turn influencing the states that follow.
It remains to add that political thought is essentially relative in its nature and lays no claim to absolute truth. In the past it grew out of actual conditions and existing modes of thought; at present it represents problems with which we must deal.
Concerning these problems political thinking is never unanimous. After the lapse of a considerable period of time, when a proper historical perspective may be secured, past problems stand out clearly, and uncritical people often judge harshly the apparent blindness of earlier generations and the inadequacy or futility of their attempted solutions.
So no doubt many of our problems will appear simple to future generations and our groping remedies will seem equally blundering. But when judged in the light of prevailing conditions and prevailing methods of thought, the difficulties involved are more apparent,
Intelligent men differ honestly in their opinions concerning the beneficial or injurious effects of certain phases of political life. Even when all . agree concerning the nature of the problems, agreement is lacking concerning their causes or the proper methods of solution.
Many such differences of opinion underlie political issues, create political parties and their contests, and form the motive forces of government. Many others are involved in the international policies of states and lead to dispute or to warfare in which both parties to the conflict are honestly convinced of the justice of their cause.
There are times when the clash of political issues is mild, when men and states agree fairly well on fundamental questions, and when governmental and international relations run smoothly and effectively. At other times differences of opinion are sharp, parties assume hostile attitudes, revolution is in the air, and international relations are strained or openly hostile.
Although some of the fundamental principles of political theory have been stated and restated, hammered out and refined, and have gained in the process a quality of explanatory power that seems universal, no theory of the state can be considered as ultimate truth. It is a fundamental weakness of a certain type of reformer that he believes that his scheme of reorganization would be perfect and permanent.
A century hence, under the changed conditions of that time, our present attitude toward political problems may seem as crude and absurd as many of the theories that arose in the past now seems to us.
This does not, however, diminish the necessity that each age should build up for itself a philosophy of the state, based upon its development to the point then reached, upon the actual conditions then existing, and upon the ideals of the future then held.